Sunday, February 24, 2013

Film Review: TOGETHER BROTHERS (1974)





"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet?" -- Number 88





TOGETHER BROTHERS (1974 20th Century Fox) Starring Ahmad Nurradin, Anthony Wilson, Nelson Sims, Ed Bernard, Glynn Turman, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Kim Dorsey, Owen Place, Frances E. Williams, Craig Campfield, Richard Yniquez, Lynne Holmes.  Directed by William A. Graham.


Five year old Wilson witnesses the murder of respected policeman Bernard and is rendered mute by the shock.  Wilson's teenaged brother Nurradin (who also considered Bernard a mentor) realizes his sibling will be targeted soon and tries to solve the murder himself.  While the cops are frustratingly slow to follow up on leads, Nurradin's gang seeks a truce with rivals led by Yniquez while racing against time to locate Bernard's killer and protect Wilson.


A low budget, oft-forgotten entry misleadingly placed under the Blaxploitation label, TOGETHER BROTHERS contains several twists on expectations, starting with its unique locale.  Director Graham (HONKY) filmed TOGETHER BROTHERS entirely on location in its Galveston, Texas setting.  The gritty, unpolished look adds weight to the film's surprisingly varied themes.


On the surface, TOGETHER BROTHERS has much in common with the following year's CORNBREAD, EARL AND ME.  Children band together to solve the seemingly senseless killing of a respected community leader, with the expected elements of police inefficiency and brutality.  TOGETHER BROTHERS lacks the big name cast of the later film (which was headlined by the debuting, teenaged Laurence Fishburne) but more than makes up for it by presenting ghetto life from perspectives rarely seen at the time.


The inefficiency of the police (even when investigating the murder of a cop) is to be expected by the veteran filmgoer, but the specific abuse of power that ends up costing Bernard his life isn't.  While Kilpatrick's character seems to revive uncomfortable and outdated bromides at first viewing, his strong performance is a plus in driving the film's major message home.  Bernard may well be the most admired authority figure of this community: by blacks and Hispanics, differing social classes, young and old (the church is packed for his funeral).  But even he isn't immune to a form of bigotry that is sadly deemed "acceptable" (in a very public display, to boot).


Graham took a gamble using many non professional actors for the juvenile roles.  The performances given by Nurradin and (particularly) Wilson score, but other amateurs in the cast are easy to identify.  This is a film that has few characters that aren't multi-dimensional, and several suspenseful moments after Nurradin and Yniquez put differences aside and work together on a daring caper at the police station itself.


TOGETHER BROTHERS makes for an uncomfortable first viewing at times, but the rough edges and more subtle points add to its rewatchability.  Guided by Graham and assisted mightily by Galveston's own Barry White on the soundtrack, TOGETHER BROTHERS proves worthy of a second (and third) look.


So...why isn't this on DVD yet?

It may remind you of CORNBREAD, EARL AND ME on the surface, but none of the juvenile actors here went on to approximate Laurence Fishburne's success; apparently, few even chose acting as a profession.  Nurradin only acted once more, in WOMEN OF SAN QUENTIN (1983; also directed by Graham).  Turman's the biggest name here, doing a glorified cameo.   By contrast, CORNBREAD boasted Bernie Casey, Madge Sinclair and Thalmus Rasulala.

While not entirely unsympathetic, on the surface Kilpatrick's character nevertheless revives some stereotypes sadly common for the film's era.


Why it should be on DVD:

TOGETHER BROTHERS might be guilty of a few cliches here and there, but the originality elsewhere outweighs them.  Another film that fell through the cracks and may not leave a good first impression, but....look again.  Graham directly mostly for television (GET CHRISTIE LOVE!), but his other features include CRY FOR ME, BILLY and WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM.

On the subject of Kilpatrick's character: it must be said that the filmmakers' point is that it was very public humiliation at the hands of someone admired by all drove him to commit the act that makes him seem like such an uncomfortable stereotype.  Given those circumstances, this seems considerably more progressive than (say) THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS and even the much later BASIC INSTINCT.

Star power might be lacking in front of the camera, but as mentioned above, the memorable soundtrack is provided by Barry White and (of course) the Love Unlimited Orchestra.


TOGETHER BROTHERS occasionally turns up on Fox Movie Channel.

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